Earlier this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted on and passed HR 1646, the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act, a priority piece of legislation for the IAFF. Introduced in 2019 by Representative Ami Bera (D-CA), this bill legislation addresses the real need for increased mental health resources within the fire service.

“This legislation will ensure our fire fighters have the best quality tools and resources they need to recognize and assist a brother or sister in crisis,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “The profound pain and shock that comes from missing the signs of a fire fighter suffering alone requires us to do all we can and fight for their mental health and well-being. Passing the HERO Act will ensure that commitment can be upheld.”

A chief component of the bill is the creation of a new grant program to train fire fighters to serve as peer counselors. Additionally, the HERO Act directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop new guidance for fire departments to educate fire fighters on how to better identify and prevent post-traumatic stress disorders. The CDC will further develop resources for mental health professionals on the culture of fire departments and evidence-based therapies for mental heath issues common to fire fighters.  Finally, the legislation would create a database at the CDC to house statistics on the incidence of suicides among public safety officers, providing researchers and policymakers necessary data to better serve the fire service community.

The HERO Act was a featured issue at the 2020 IAFF Legislative Conference. Now one of the IAFF’s priority bills moves forward to the full House of Representatives for consideration. The Senate’s companion bill, S 3244, introduced by Senator Rosen (D-NV), is currently awaiting consideration before the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.